FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Nick Folk nearly booted himself back to the unemployment line with each unpredictable kick.
Given a chance to revive his once-promising career, Folk was wild when he first came to the New York Jets a few months ago. It got so bad, he nearly hit the scoreboard several yards wide of the goal posts on one attempt in practice.
“I was worried that day,” coach Rex Ryan said. “I was concerned most of the time.”
Folk has put that all behind him, setting a career high with five field goals, including a personal-best 53-yarder, in New York’s 29-20 win over Minnesota on Monday night. He has made 12 of 14 attempts and leads the NFL with 49 points.
“I’m not going to say Nick Folk is doing a great job kicking like a Pro Bowl kicker or anything like that because his contract is up,” Ryan said with a big grin. “So I’m not going to make that comment.”
But that’s how the team feels, a complete turnaround from those days in early spring when the Jets were heavily criticized for not re-signing the reliable Jay Feely.
“When I first heard about it that we had signed him, it’s not like I was jumping up and down,” special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff said. “But, when I watched him kick and watched him work out, you could see that he was fine. His technique was very good.”
Folk credits Westhoff, punter Steve Weatherford and long snapper Tanner Purdum for helping him become more consistent.
“Kind of the middle of the way through OTAs, I had figured out a rhythm with Tanner and Steve,” Folk said. “With that rhythm brought a lot more confidence and everything became a lot smoother. I was pretty high as far as the numbers through the second half of OTAs and minicamp. I also had a pretty good training camp.”
There were still questions, though, because of his shaky history. Folk was a Pro Bowl selection in 2007, helping Dallas into the playoffs with a team rookie-record 131 points. He missed two kicks the following season and then it all went downhill.
Afraid of losing his spot last year to David Buehler, whom the Cowboys had drafted, Folk hurried back from a surgically repaired torn labrum in his right hip. He went 18 for 28 and missed at least one attempt in six straight games before being cut in December.
“In that last year, one of the things we were aware of was that he had that injury, and that drastically affected his technique,” Westhoff said. “You could just see that he wasn’t quite the same guy.”
So, Westhoff tweaked some of Folk’s mechanics and had a huge T-square-shaped contraption built to help Folk mark off his steps the same way each time he lined up for a kick.
“He breaks that bad boy out and he hasn’t missed since,” Ryan said. “I think Westy is going to be selling those things across the country.”
In a game Monday night when most were focused on Brett Favre, Randy Moss, Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes and Darrelle Revis, Folk was the unsung hero. He made a 22-yarder in a driving rain that made it hard to see, let alone kick, to give the Jets a 12-0 lead entering halftime. Folk accounted for all of New York’s scoring until the fourth quarter.
“It got really wet really fast,” Folk said. “I’m sure that was really tough (for the offense) to deal with it because I know it was tough to deal with on my end. I couldn’t imagine trying to catch a ball that wet. They trust me to kick balls through the uprights. and I just have to go out there and try to do that and try to help the team win.”
Sounds simple enough, but a lot goes into becoming a reliable kicker.
“I really think he’s always been there,” Purdum said. “OTAs and practice are for those times that you’re working things out and get your leg swing to where you want it. I expect him to be that way and do that. I have full confidence that he’s going to make every kick.”
After making it to the AFC championship game last season, New York was not allowed under NFL rules to sign an unrestricted free agent until one of their own signed elsewhere. When kicker Jay Feely signed with Arizona in April, the Jets used that opportunity to bring in Jason Taylor.
“If we would have signed Jay, we wouldn’t have had Jason Taylor,” Ryan said. “The combination of Jason Taylor and Nick Folk is pretty good. How does that look right now for us?”
Weatherford is just happy to see Folk — his neighbor and buddy, whom his son calls “Uncle Nick” — being successful after a shaky start.
“I think the media and the fans weren’t overly welcoming to him for that simple fact that Jay did so well,” Weatherford said. “It was a tough situation for him, but he has played great and I think the fans have embraced him.”
Not that Folk is at all satisfied. Even after the performance he had, Folk was still thinking about booting the opening kickoff out of bounds.
“Yeah,” he said, “I’ve got to put together some complete games coming up here.”
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)